Hope for the grieving

Published 8:15 am Friday, November 28, 2008

It seems unreal that we are only weeks from Christmas.

Where did all that time go?

I love the holiday season because of the very special meaning it holds and because of the many opportunities it offers to share time with family and friends.

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There is a special area of concern for many during this season that brings with it some extreme challenges during what should be a happy time.

It is that of grieving the death of a loved one. Grief is never an easy part of life, but for many, it becomes even more difficult during the holiday season—it does not take a break during Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other holiday.

Perhaps a few thoughts along this line of need will be helpful to both those who are grieving and those who are trying to help a friend or relative through this trying time of life.

A good place to begin is to be reminded that grieving the loss of a loved one is a normal process. However, just because it is a normal emotional response does not make it easy. Nevertheless, it is sometimes helpful for those in grief to realize that they are navigating the usual path that others are facing who have experienced the death of someone dear to them. As we are often reminded from Scripture as we discuss this topic, even Jesus Christ grieved when He learned of the death of His dear friend Lazarus: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV).

An important characteristic of the process of grieving is that it often does not follow a nice straight line. It is normal to swing back and forth along the journey of emotional healing. Some refer to various steps in the grieving process that include such things as shock and numbness when death first occurs, denial that the loved one really has departed from this life, periods of anger, and finally a time when the deceased can be remembered with lessened pain.

Each of these aspects of grief are good to be aware of, but we must be cautioned again that they are not nice stepping stones that necessarily move smoothly from one step to the next step, nor are they seasons that are visited once and never returned to again. For many, such things as anger and denial might be revisited numerous times. And with the abundance of memories that the holiday season holds, it is not uncommon for those who are grieving to take several steps back in the grieving process during the holidays.

This, too, is normal and should not take one by surprise.

Times does not heal all

We should also remind ourselves that time alone does not make every pain vanish.

Those who expect everything to be fine after the first year following the death of a loved one might be in for an unwelcome surprise. While time does remove us further from the initial difficult moment and hopefully a lessening of the pain, the process of grief does not automatically vanish; even after the passing of many years, there can still be difficult moments of intense sorrow to be dealt with.

So being reminded that grief is a normal response to the death of a loved one and that the grieving process often follows a crooked and bumpy path that can take a long time to travel might be of some value, but what are some specific things that can help an individual effectively cope with grief during the holiday season?

Every person and every situation is different, so there is not a generic list of things to do or not to do that works equally well for everyone, but there are some general things that will help. If you are walking the difficult journey of grief, I encourage you to consider the following tips.

A good place to begin is taking care of yourself. Take care of yourself spiritually by spending time with God in prayer, meditation and Scripture reading. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally by eating properly, resting adequately and exercising regularly.

Planning ahead can also be of help. Rather than just allowing the stress of the season to pile up on you, think ahead about the things that you really need to do, and perhaps the things and places you need to avoid to prevent excessive emotional strain.

Then give yourself permission in some areas: Permission to cry when you need to, permission to turn down some invitations, permission to do things differently than you have in the past, permission to hope for a better tomorrow. And of great importance, give yourself permission to seek help in dealing with your grief if needed. Ministers, doctors and other professionals are there to help you—take advantage of what is available.

Grief is never easy, and it can be especially difficult during the holiday season. But with God’s help, self determination, support from family and friends, and other assistance as needed, you will make it.

I do not know who originally penned the following words, but I leave them with you for your encouragement:

“When our vision is clouded by circumstance … God sees clearly.

“When our understanding is shadowed by questions … God knows perfectly.

“When our path is shaded with uncertainty … God leads faithfully.”